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Syd Tunn ©  I Dips Me Lid. A self portrait  (detail)

There’s magic in the air at Bend of Islands, just north of Warrandyte. The magicians responsible are artists Ona Henderson and Syd Tunn. Married for over thirty years, they work there together in their enormous studio in the bush.  Between the two of them, they’ve created a place and space where their art can flourish. They built the studio themselves.  Ona proudly tells me she built the floor and Syd the roof.  Rustic, warm wood throughout. Surfaces covered with completed and unfinished work, equipment and treasures gathered from the nearby bush.

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They are each muse for the other.  Encouraging and nurturing in words and gestures.  That’s where the magic really kicked in.  As their guest, I was briefly bathed in that encouragement and nurturance. I started to believe that any creative idea I’ve ever had might just work…that it was at least worth a try.

If the essential ingredient for creativity is an ability for playfulness, Syd and Ona have perfected that one. There was great hilarity during the photo shoot with Syd donning a hat here and pair of sun glasses there.

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From photographs on the wall of the studio. (above)

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As a good friend of Deborah Halpern, Syd painted this portrait which appeared in The Archibald Salon some years ago.  All the Deb ‘references’ are there… mosaic, Angel, ceramics and of course a love of wild colour. The two panels in the second photo hinge on each side of the central panel, like the wings of an angel. When Deb sat for this portrait, Syd used a light with green cellophane over it to get this gorgeous green light on her skin.

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Portrait by Syd Tunn ©

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Portrait by Syd Tunn ©

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Work by Syd Tunn ©

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Syd Tunn © Waratah

This beautiful portrait of Syd by Ona (below) describes their love story.   Here’s what Ona says about it…

To see a face reflected in a pool of water is a mysterious way to paint my husband’s portrait, but it’s a mysterious relationship. We are literally an upside down partnership of  complements, skills, personalities and roles – personally and professionally.

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Ona Henderson © Answers in the Mirror Pool Acrylic on canvas 143x92cm

You get a flavour of Ona’s playfulness from this print of a portrait for the Archibald (below) by Eliza Darby © .  For her fiftieth birthday, Ona dressed up as Carmen…

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Ona’s preoccupation with the environment is evident in all of her work.  Living at Bend of Islands provides a plethora of inspiration.  In the studio, there’s a glass cabinet which holds precious natural objects collected locally and in other places.  Curly leaves, lace leaves, long leaves, all have a collection point within the cabinet. (Nests are a recurring theme for me at the moment.)

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Work by Ona Henderson © 

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Work by Ona Henderson ©

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The three of us chatted and laughed and chatted some more for several hours.  At one point Ona told me the gut wrenching stories of loss during the Black Saturday fires. The tales were so affecting that I struggled to maintain my composure.  It’s a recurrent theme within the arts community up here.  The wounds are deep. Efforts to heal those wounds through art have led to some wonderful projects.  Ona was involved in the Nillumbik Shire’s exhibition, Symbols of Loss and Recovery.  Click on this link to view a documentary about the exhibition featuring Ona and Nillumbik Shire’s Arts and Culture co- ordinator Irene Pagram.

A love of their community coupled with a deep commitment to serve that community has seen them participate in many projects, both big and small.  A history of Montsalvat, Dunmoochin and the Butterfly Studio will record their generous input. Ona and Syd have been leading lights in the Nillumbik Open Studio’s Program since it’s beginnings more than twenty years ago. Twice a year they welcome hundreds of art lovers into their studio.  If you missed them earlier this year, the November opening dates are 19th, 20th, 26th and 27th.

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This Michael Leunig cartoon sits in a prominent place within the studio.  It pretty much sums up my experience there.

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Still under the Syd and Ona spell, I set off through the bush back to Warrandyte. On the way, I needed to stop the car for a phone call, so headed for a driveway to get off the road. A great big old kangaroo was standing like a sentry at the beginning of the driveway.  He didn’t move a muscle until I’d completely pulled in very close to him.  He turned around and in one bound effortlessly cleared the fence.  I watched him until he disappeared out of view… enjoying the moment. I realised the phone had stopped and I’d missed the call. I just sat in the car amazed by my own good fortune to be surrounded by such loveliness. Sadly, the phone rang again, this time I managed to answer it….the spell was broken.